COLUMBIA, Mo. — While one impressive streak ended, another continued despite seemingly overwhelming odds.
Park Hill finished in third place over the weekend in the Class 4 Missouri State Wrestling Championships team standings. The Trojans’ streak of four straight titles ended, but for the 10th straight year, they brought home a top-three trophy — all despite being without three returning state medalists and losing another during the tournament.
Devin Winston, a sophomore, took home the 170-pound individual championship for Park Hill, which featured six total first-time medalists.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the most rewarding tournaments that I’ve ever been part of,” Park Hill coach Jeff Davis said. “These guys, they feed off each other, and we’ve had some negative things come up, and even during the tournament some things, and they never let it distract them from what they wanted to do and what they were achieving.
“We were still planning on winning a state championship, and we finished third.”
Winston led the way, overcoming the disappointment of his 2016 state debut.
Ranked No. 1 at 160 as a sophomore, Winston lost his first two matches and crashed out of the tournament. He didn’t have any such problems this season, rolling in at No. 1 again with high expectations.
Winston pinned each of his first three opponents — two in under 40 seconds — to reach the finals. Having spent just 4 minutes, 34 seconds on the mat at that point, Winston dominated a full three periods in a 7-1 decision that was never remotely close against Lafayette (Wildwood) senior Austin Stofer.
“This year, I put everything behind me,” said Winston (43-1), who didn’t lose to a Missouri opponent this season. “I tried to clear my mind before my matches so I didn’t get nervous, and I went out and wrestled. I came in nervous because last year I went 0-2. I choked a little bit. I pinned my first three kids, got those matches out of the way.”
Winston’s win put a positive cap on a tumultuous week.
Park Hill found out days prior to the tournament that only 11 of 13 state qualifiers would be participating. Weston DiBlasi (126) and Josh Steele (132) — both juniors — were removed from the brackets for unspecified reasons. The pair boasted two state appearances each and three total medals, including DiBlasi’s runner-up finish at 126 as a sophomore.
Kelvin Eblen, the Trojans’ only returning state champion, did not make the lineup ahead of Class 4 District 4 competition the previous week.
“I cannot describe the turmoil these guys have been through in the last week or so and how proud of them I am and their efforts,” Davis said. “They came together. It had little to do with me. It was just them and what they wanted to achieve.”
Boasting a national team ranking and owning the top spot in missouriwrestling.com’s Class 4 poll all year, Park Hill didn’t factor in the championship race. Winston’s win over Stofer moved the Trojans from fourth to third, a half point in front of Lafayette.
Of the 13 qualifiers for Park Hill, only three were seniors.
The inexperience mostly didn’t show with freshmen Ashton Sharp (third, 195) and Trey Crawford (fifth, 106) making impressive debuts, while sophomores Blake Hopson (fourth, 160) and Austin Kolvek (fifth, 120) won their first medals in their second trips. TJ Hullaby, the only senior to medal, came in fifth at 182 in his first and only state appearance after twice missing a berth by just one match.
Staley, the District 4 champion by two points over Park Hill, won its first state title with 119½ points, while CBC came in second at 105½ with four finalists and four state champions.
“We still came out with a third place trophy so we’re going to take that home and work on getting better,” Winston said.
Park Hill succeeded despite potential distractions and some tough quarterfinal draws. Winston, Kolvek and Hopson all reached the semifinals to guarantee three medals.
After losing to CBC sophomore and eventual repeat state champion DJ Shannon in the semifinals, Hopson (32-12) came back with a pin of Francis Howell Central’s Jonathan Floyd in a leg scissor to reach the third-place match where he lost for a second time in three matches to Blue Springs junior Brett Heil.
Kolvek (32-9), who went 0-2 at state at 113 as a freshman, hung on for a 6-5 decision against Waynesville freshman Gaven Sax just to make the semifinal, which he lost 5-1 to Seckman’s Cameron Fusco. Kolvek dropped his wrestleback semifinal but also closed with a win in the fifth-place match by injury default over Rock Bridge senior Brock Davis.
Crawford, Hullaby and Sharp ended up with tougher roads.
After losing 5-0 to Eureka junior and eventual champion Kyle Dickhaus in the 182 quarterfinals, Hullaby won two straight to reach the medal rounds. He then lost to previously unbeaten Dylan Komperda of Francis Howell to drop into the fifth-place match.
Hullaby (29-14) then closed his career with an impressive 4-2 overtime victory against Lindbergh senior Dustin Jones, scoring the winning takedown in the 1-minute sudden death period.
“I think I got everything I wanted and more,” Hullaby said. “I’d never qualified before. This was my first time qualifying and first time placing.”
Crawford also lost to the eventual state champion in quarterfinals.
After dropping a 7-1 decision to CBC junior Cevion Severado, the highly touted Trojans freshman came back with a 7-3 decision Francis Howell’s Josh Kyle and then a third period pin of Holt freshman Carter Smith in a highly competitive bubble match.
Seckman’s Jack Wrocklage evened up his record with Crawford this season at two wins apiece, but he also closed with a win. After trailing early, Crawford used two third period takedowns to win a 6-5 decision over Lafayette’s Jayden Carson for fifth place.
“We noticed what was going on around us, and we had to step up our game. That’s what we did out here, battling through bruises,” said Crawford, who immediately went to ice an injured right shoulder after the win. “I had some setbacks, but I had to fight through them. I competed well for the most part. I wanted to come in here and win a state title, but finishing fifth isn’t the worst I could do.”
Sharp ended up with Park Hill’s second-best finish after a series of close victories.
After opening with a 1-0 win in the first round, Sharp lost a 3-2 decision to Hickman senior Jude Barrett in the quarterfinals. Sharp recovered with his best performance — a 17-8 major decision — before a 4-2 decision over Oak Park senior Remington Brelsford guaranteed him a medal.
Sharp then beat Nixa junior Donovan Benetti 4-3 and outlasted Barrett in a rematch for third. A late stalling penalty point against Sharp helped Barrett tie the score 4-4, but Sharp won a scramble for the winning takedown in the 1-minute overtime period.
“(Sharp) is coming around,” Davis said. “You saw him go out there and have confidence and come through for his team. I would’ve liked him to finish a little better, but I think it was a learning experience and he went out and kind of redeemed himself in that last match.”
Five of Park Hill’s six medalists won their final match, and all but Hullaby return next season to chase another title.
This year’s title run suffered early setbacks with sophomore Trey Safford (113), taking Eblen’s spot, and freshman Johnny Wilson (220) both going 0-2. Wilson entered off an upset run to the District 4 individual title, but he struggled, not unlike Winston last year, on the big stage despite a five-point move in a 9-7 wrestleback loss to Jackson senior Bryce Dickerson.
Park Hill senior Landen Brown (285) and sophomore Carter Goslee (145) both went 1-2 in their second trips to state, both improving from an 0-2 finish in 2016. Brown lost a controversial 3-2 decision in ultimate tiebreaker in the first round to Seckman senior Jack Vogel, who scored the tying point in tiebreaker and winning point in ultimate tiebreaker on clasping calls. After a pin of Joplin’s Jacob Booe, Brown ended his tournament with a 5-1 loss to Liberty’s Zane Shaddox, who entered state unbeaten but was upset in the quarterfinals.
The chances to catch Staley and CBC all but ended in third round wrestlebacks when officials disqualified senior Tommy Lisher for his second flagrant misconduct of a match he was losing against Holt freshman Colton Hawks. Lisher transferred to Park Hill for his junior season after winning a Kansas Class 4A state title at Baldwin, and he placed fifth at 152 last year.
The disqualification forced Park Hill to forfeit the team points Lisher earned with first round and wrestleback wins. He lost a 13-0 major decision in quarterfinals to eventual state champion Alec Hagan.
Despite the upheaval late in the year, Park Hill could return eight former state medalists and 10 total qualifiers next year. Of that group, only Eblen, DiBlasi and Steele would be seniors, although their status remains to be determined.
Davis knows the tradition at Park Hill can continue, and he hopes to put together another championship lineup next season.
“We’ve got some good young kids coming into the program,” Davis said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back. I think we’ve got to make some changes on how they live their lives. Winning a state championship is not something you can take for granted, obviously.”